Review of "The Most Happy" by Helen R. Davis -- An Alternative History of Anne Boleyn


This week I read The Most Happy by Helen R. Davis. I had recently read her alternative history series on Cleopatra and really enjoyed it, but this was the first alternative history of Anne Boleyn I’ve ever read. I’ve always wondered about the “what ifs,” of course. What if Anne had survived Henry’s obsession? What if she had given Henry a son and heir?

In this story, Elizabeth has a twin brother, and Henry dies at the 1536 joust. Two small quirks of fate that could have changed everything. Anne becomes queen regent, ruling for her son until he is of age.

What I enjoyed about this novel was one of the things I enjoyed so much about the Cleopatra series, catching references to familiar people and events and lines of dialogue that were spoken in other contexts.

What of Anne herself? In fiction, she’s sometimes been portrayed as an outright nasty creature that makes you wonder what Henry ever saw in her. I enjoyed this Anne and appreciated the balanced view of her character. This is an Anne who makes mistakes and regrets them. She’s certainly not saintly, but she tries to do the right thing both for her children, for the reformed faith, and for the country.

We also see the lives of other figures of the Tudor court play out. What would have happened to Jane Seymour or Jane Rochford? What about little Katheryn Howard, whose real fate was to meet the axe just like her cousin?

But what I enjoyed the most was exploring what might have been if Anne had been able to fully exercise her gifts. She was a sharply intelligent woman with a zeal for religious reform. At one point, Henry trusted her enough to meet with ambassadors for him and choose bishops for the new English church. What if her political acumen had been given wings? I really enjoyed exploring the possibilities with this novel.

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